I read a report earlier this week titled “What We Can Learn from Unsuccessful Online Students.” However, I prefer to focus on the positive, so this week I would like to present tips from successful online students. This comes from my own experience as an online student as well as from teaching successful online students.
I have found that the number one predictor of a successful online student is the ability to manage the twenty-four hours that they are given every day. Online students do not have to attend an onsite class in a physical building at a particular time, but they still need to set aside a discreet block of time to study. When students try to squeeze studies in between other activities, often that time is co-opted by other pressing or higher priority items. One has to be realistic about how many hours a week it takes to review lectures, participate in discussions, and complete assignments. Set aside enough time to produce quality work without being rushed by deadlines.
Successful online students are skilled in balancing their schoolwork with other activities and responsibilities. School does not have to be the number one priority, but it should be in the top tier. Family, work, health, friends, and service are also possible high priorities, but a successful student realizes that each has their place and time. If family is high on the list, you may need to block out time for schoolwork after 10 p.m. when the house is quieter. If friends are of a significant importance, you may need to balance an active social calendar with schoolwork. If they are good friends, they will understand your priorities. Work to set aside the time for the things important to you and prioritize the things that must get done.
Build a support network. It is difficult, if not impossible, to complete online studies in a vacuum. Engage your friends, family, a spouse, or colleagues. Help them understand why reaching this milestone is important to you and enlist their assistance in achieving your vision. Let them be invested in your success. Let your support network compensate for your weaknesses. Is your writing rusty? Find at least one—I often recommend two—proofreaders to catch mistakes and help polish your assignments. Are you not confident in your technical abilities? Approach your favorite tech person and offer something in return for helping you set up applications and infrastructure. Some of the best tech people I know will work for food. A well-cooked meal beats chips and energy bars any day. Create a support network and let them celebrate successes with you.
Be humble enough to realize that you are not an expert on every subject. You are pursuing online education so that you can learn, grow, and become better at your chosen profession. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the instructor, the other students, or of your support network. No one will think you are dumb. You left that thinking back in high school. Colleagues, friends, and instructors genuinely want you to succeed and are there to help—all you need to do is ask.
Time management, discipline, a support network, and the ability to reach out for help are all success factors in online education. It will not necessarily be an easy journey, but it will definitely be rewarding as you grow in your new skills and accomplish important milestones such as graduation. Learning is life-long, and while milestones are important, it is equally important that you are continuously growing and learning. What are some of the factors that have made you successful? Let me know.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.